Most consumers choose a laptop computer based on size, speed, storage capacity and screen quality.
But if you are accident prone or use your laptop in a wet or dusty environment—or you just tend to carry it everywhere, so it gets bumped and bruised—you also should consider how durable the laptop is.
What happens if you drop your laptop on the floor? Or spill your coffee on the keyboard? Close the cover with your ear buds inside? Get sand on it, or leave it in the car in subfreezing weather?
Laptops that score high marks for durability cost several hundred dollars more than standard laptops with the same storage and power, but they still may be more cost-effective. That’s because warranties on laptops specifically exclude accidental damage…and repairs for a cracked screen or ruined circuitry easily can exceed the cost of the laptop.
Some of the features to look for: Spill-proof keyboards that seal off the electronics inside…an internal roll cage around the frame to protect from drops…a chassis made of magnesium or aluminum alloys, which is tougher than a typical plastic chassis…crack-resistant screens. In-addition…
Choose a laptop that is designed to pass key MIL-STD 810G tests measuring durability. Benchmarks for the tests are set by the US Department of Defense for contractors that supply its electronic devices. The number of tests conducted by each laptop manufacturer varies but should include the ability to operate at extreme temperatures and to withstand vibrations, drops and spills. Check the manufacturer’s website for this information.
Consider spending extra to get a solid-state drive (SSD). Basic versions of many laptops, even durable ones, have a mechanical hard drive (the internal device that stores your data), which includes moving parts. An SSD has no moving parts, which means that you are less likely to lose all your data if the laptop is dropped.
Skip accidental-damage insurance. Most manufacturers offer it, but only as part of an extended warranty package, which can cost 20% to 40% of the laptop’s price, and there is a deductible of $100 or higher per incident.
My Favorite Durable Laptops
These laptops offer essential rugged features, impressive performance, reliability and long battery life.
- Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Carbon is a favorite with business travelers and weighs just 2.6 pounds. Its keyboard, which has a built-in drainage system, can repel and drain up to 17 ounces of liquids such as soda or coffee. Basics: Intel Core i5 processor, 128GB solid-state drive, 14-inch screen, nine-hour battery life. Price: Starts at $1,142.
- Lenovo ThinkPad X260 matches the much more expensive X1 Carbon model in durability and provides much longer battery life—17 hours. However, it is not as speedy and has a smaller screen. Basics: Intel Core i3 processor, 500GB conventional hard drive, 12.5-inch screen, 2.9 pounds. Price: Starts at $764.
- Asus Chromebook C202 is a different breed of rugged laptop—and it is much less expensive than most. It is designed to be used while connected to the Internet, with your apps and documents residing in the “cloud.” In addition to a reinforced chassis, the Chromebook is protected by a rubberized protective ring with reinforced corners and a spill-resistant keyboard. Basics: Intel Celeron processor, no hard drive, 11.6-inch screen, 2.6 pounds, eight-hour-or-longer battery life. Price: Starts at $189.